Human Rights Expert: Extension of Entry Law Meant to Keep Out Darfur Refugees

Some 200 asylum seekers imprisoned in Israel after being defined as 'threatening.'

The harsh criticism by the High Court of the temporary order known as the Entry to Israel Law, which prevents the unification of families and the granting of citizenship to their Palestinian members, has not caused the state to moderate its stance. On the contrary, the state proposes extending the order by two years after it runs out in January, and expanding it to include not only residents of the Palestinian Authority but to a number of countries considered to be "threats." One reason for the proposed extension is to block the possibility that refugees of genocide in Darfur would be able to obtain political asylum here, according to attorney Anat Ben-Dor of the Refugee Rights Program of the law faculty at Tel Aviv University.

The bill would prohibit the interior minister from granting a residency permit to a citizen from a "threat country," or to anyone who constitutes a security risk to Israel. The law defines such individuals as anyone living in a country conducting terror activities against Israel, which Ben-Dor calls a "very technical argument."

Over the past two years the Janjaweed militias, whose members are Arab Muslims, have murdered more than 200,000 African Muslims in Darfur, with the backing of the Sudanese government. Some experts place the number of victims as high as 400,000. Some two million people in Darfur alone have been uprooted from their homes.

Some 280 asylum-seekers from Sudan have come to Israel via Egypt and were arrested at the border. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Israel, Miki Bavli, says their lives are in danger in Sudan, both because of the genocide and because they sought asylum in Israel.

About two hundred of them are still in prison, jailed according to the law against infiltration, which allows for extended imprisonment with minimal judicial oversight.

Attorney Nurit Tabib, of the Tel Aviv District Prosecutor's office, explained the state's position in a response to a suit filed in the Tel Aviv Administrative Court: "...the security services have no possibility for distinguishing between someone who is infiltrating Israel on orders from Al-Qaida and someone who is an innocent infiltrator fleeing for his life."

The state is also concerned about setting a precedent. Tabib says more and more Sudanese refugees are infiltrating from Egypt.

But Ben-Dor calls the idea that they are dangerous "baseless." "These people cross the border and go to the nearest camera and wait for the patrol. If the patrol doesn't see them, they run after it and show their refugee card. Is that how a terrorist behaves?"

Ben-Dor, who is handling a number of cases demanding rights and status in Israel for Sudanese refugees, says the Justice Ministry practice of not allowing residence permits to citizens of hostile countries is against Israeli law and the international convention on refugees.

Article 44 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 determines that a country to which refugees have fled must not treat them as enemy aliens simply because they are citizens of an enemy country. This article was proposed by Israel, in response to the treatment of Jewish refugees during World War II.

Holocaust historian Prof. Yehuda Bauer submitted an affidavit to the High Court stating that the arrest of the Sudanese refugees was akin to the arrest of German Jews in England and the U.S. in the 1930s.

Ben-Dor argues that Israeli law also does not allow infiltrators to automatically be categorized as dangerous. "It is frightening to think that on the basis of general and speculative information they are ready to hold all Sudanese refugees in jail," she says.

The Justice Ministry responded that the citizenship bill is not intended to allow Israel to avoid its obligations regarding refugees, and that the bill contains solutions for refugees from threatening countries.